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Just finished News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her parents were killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of a old west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Cookies, on December 7th, 2015.

no_bake_holiday_cookie_cubes

A cookie. A little bar. A little square of goodness. Chocolate, cookie crumbs (you’ll have to read below to learn what types), corn flakes (they are the little light colored horizontal striations you see buried in the cubes), nuts, dried cranberries and speculoos. What, you say? I know, you’ll need to read more about that below.

When I saw the picture of this little gem on Dorie Greenspan’s website, I just knew I needed to try them. The recipe was written up for her column at the Washington Post. What intrigued me were several things: (1) it was a no-bake cookie; (2) it called for 2 things I knew nothing about – Biscoff cookies (where have I been?) and speculoos (another, where have I been?); and (3) it was chocolate (yum). First, though, I had to FIND these elusive ingredients.

biscoff_cookie_package

Going down the aisle at my grocery store I found the Biscoff cookies. Because I rarely buy store-bought cookies, I guess I’ve just never noticed. They’re a butter spice cookie, probably made with dark brown sugar, I’d guess. They’re crispy. The manufacturer says they’re “Europe’s Favorite Cookie with Coffee.” Not remembering how much I needed, I ended up buying 2 packages. I only needed one. But, if I hadn’t found the other elusive ingredient I would have used the 2nd package to make the cookie butter.

speculoos_cookie_butter_trader_joesIn the write-up, Dorie mentioned that Trader Joe’s makes a speculoos cookie butter which is very similar to the Biscoff cookie, in a butter form, and sure enough, they do. Right next to their version of Nutella. In a jar (see photo) and I scooped a spoonful of it up for you to see – it has the same look and texture as peanut butter. It’s jarred, and it says right on it, don’t refrigerate it. Okay, got it. I used most of the jar for the filling of this cookie. Don’t know what I’ll ever use the rest of it for – maybe over the holidays someone will want to spread it on toast. Being me, I had to go look up more about speculoos – from wikipedia: Speculoos is a type of spiced shortcrust biscuit, traditionally baked for consumption on or just before St Nicholas’ feast in the Netherlands, Belgium, and around Christmas in the western and southern parts of Germany (and they make it into a spread, just like Biscoff does).

In my pantry I had corn flakes. I also had ample dried cranberries, and I chose to use almonds in this – you can use any kind of nut you’d like, or use a combination. The recipe calls for just 1/2 cup of nuts. First you make the cookie base. I whizzed up nearly all of one cookie package in the food processor until it was fine crumbs. Melted butter was added, then it was patted into the 9×9 pan – actually it might be an 8×8 pan, which is what Dorie calls for. I do suggest you press the cookie crumb layer firmly – if you don’t it will fall apart when you try to cut it into cubes later.

melting_choc_speculoos_butterThat is put into the freezer to firm up while you make the filling. In a big saucepan you melt butter, the speculoos cookie spread/butter and 12 ounces of chocolate. Dorie prefers a dark chocolate, which is what I used. Milk chocolate can be substituted, though. I used a flame-tamer to do that part because the mixture was very thick (the speculoos particularly – it’s sticky like peanut butter) and I didn’t want it to burn. I let it cool a bit, then added the corn flakes, dried cranberries and almonds. You can also use raisins, dried cherries or chopped up dried apricots instead of the cranberries. You stir all this together until you can’t see any more of the cornflake pieces, then gently scoop it on top of the frozen crumb crust. Press it down firmly all over (I didn’t do that quite enough) so the chocolate layer adheres to the crumbs.

layers_no_bake_cookiesThe mixture is spread out clear to the corners and you do squish it out and down as best you can. Chill several hours, or freeze. I can’t imagine trying to cut this from a frozen state. Getting this block of stuff out of the pan was a bit of challenge – I dipped the 8×8 pan into a pan of hot water for about a minute (being careful to not splash any water into the cookies), then used a narrow metal spatula to free all the edges. It came out easily at that point (Dorie actually recommends blowing a hair dryer all around the bottom and sides of the pan); I righted it, then cut it into cubes. Dorie recommended 7 sliced strips – I was only able to get 6 from my pan, then I carefully cut each of the long slices into cubes, so I got about 40. A serrated knife did not work for this (though Dorie suggests it). I found a big chef’s knife worked better. And as it was, I messed up a bunch of them where the crumb crust came unstuck. I’ve packaged them up in a plastic box and they’re in the refrigerator. Before serving, allow them to warm at room temp for about 15 minutes, Dorie suggests. My cubes were not very uniform – Dorie’s look like they’re cut with precision. It’s a bit hard to do – but that won’t matter to the taste of them.

What’s GOOD: love the flavor of these – the cookies give a different flavor and texture – the crunch in them is wonderful. I liked the corn flakes. All of it is good, and although it’s a no-bake cookie, you’ll still spend a bit of time making this. But it’s not like rolling out Christmas cookies, using a cookie cutter, then baking. I would think children would LOVE these. Haven’t tried them on any yet, but I will.

What’s NOT: nothing other than some time – saying it’s a no-bake cookie just means you don’t have to heat the oven. You’ll still spend a bit of time making them.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

No-Bake Cookie Cubes

Recipe By: Dorie Greenspan, column in Washington Post, 12/2015
Serving Size: 49 (or less)

CRUST:
1 1/4 cups Biscoff cookies — or graham cracker crumbs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — (3/4 stick) melted
TOPPING:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — (3/4 stick) cut into 6 pieces
1 cup spice cookie spread — such as Biscoff/Lotus or Speculoos
12 ounces chocolate — preferably semisweet or bittersweet, coarsely chopped (may substitute milk chocolate)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt — (1/4 to 1/2)
4 cups corn flakes
1/2 cup raisins — or dried cranberries, chopped dried cherries or chopped dried apricots (or a mix of fruits)
1/2 cup slivered almonds — (toasted or plain), shelled pistachios, chopped walnuts or chopped pecans (or a mix of nuts)

1. CRUST: Pulse cookies until fine crumbs, then place in a medium bowl, pour over the melted butter, and, using a fork or your fingertips, mix until the crumbs are moist and evenly coated. Turn out into the 8-inch square pan, then use your fingertips to press and compact the crumbs into a crust. Freeze the crust while you make the topping.
2. TOPPING: Put the butter in a LARGE heavy-bottomed saucepan (such as a 3-to-4-quart pan), then add the cookie spread; finally, add the chocolate and salt (use the lesser amount if you’ll be adding salted nuts) to the pan. Cook over low heat, stirring as the ingredients melt, to form a smooth, glossy mixture. Turn off the heat and stir in the cornflakes, dried fruit and nuts, mixing until all the add-ins are coated with the chocolate mixture.
3. Remove the crust from the freezer; pour the topping over it and use a spatula to spread the topping across the crust, making sure to get it into the corners. Press firmly so the filling sticks to the bottom crust. Refrigerate for 4 hours; you want it to be solid.
4. To unmold, either warm the bottom and sides of the pan with hot air from a hair dryer (Dorie Greenspan’s preferred method) or dip the pan into hot water for about a minute, taking care not to let the water splash onto the chocolate.
5. Place a piece of parchment or wax paper over a rack or cutting board, and have another cutting board at hand. Run a round-edged table knife around the sides of the pan, and turn the pan over onto the paper. If the cookie slab doesn’t drop out of the pan, apply more heat. Once the slab is unmolded, carefully flip it over onto the other cutting board so the crust side is down.
6. It’s easiest to cut the slab into cubes using a long chef’s knife or a serrated slicing knife and a sawing motion. Cut cookie cubes that are roughly 1 inch square by slicing the slab into 7 rows and then cutting each row crosswise into 7 cookies. Store the cubes in the refrigerator or freezer, and allow them to sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving. Biscoff’s are available at most grocery stores. Speculoos butter is available at Trader Joe’s. It resembles peanut butter.
Per Serving (not accurate as I forgot to add nutrition info on the speculoos): 111 Calories; 7g Fat (54.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 58mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on December 8th, 2015:

    I have had my eye on this recipe, too. Bought the Biscoff last week, but was planning on using graham crackers for the crust. Now I am wondering–do you think the crust is necessary? You mentioned that it wanted to separate from the rest of the cube. Is the filling part firm enough to hold its shape and be enjoyed on its own?

    I remember when Biscoff spread started appearing in my supermarket, maybe five years ago. At the time, I didn’t think much of the idea. I eat peanut butter for the protein, and I couldn’t see spreading carbs on carbs. However, in the end, I couldn’t resist at least trying it, as I have an insatiable appetite for trying new tastes and textures. It was interesting, but I’ve never bought it again. I avoided spreading it on toast and such, but did enjoy some on apple slices a couple of times. The rest languished in the cupboard until it got old and I threw it out. I’ve seen it used in many applications since then so will find a way to use up any extra somehow this time.

    Hi Donna – well, the filling did separate from the crust on SOME of the pieces I cut. I had a hard time cutting these so they were very precise, but in the long run, I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much if they’re irregularly shaped. Perhaps if they were cut from a frozen state they might be better shaped (I don’t know that, just guessing) but I think cutting them would require a really strong arm.

    The speculoos spread at Trader Joe’s is just about what you need for the filling – there was a tiny bit left in the jar and I gave it to my friend Cherrie who doesn’t really like jam. It’s so funny – you and I have a lot in common – I just can’t imagine (and thought this myself) that why would I spread a carb (cookie) spread on top of toast (carb). We’re on the same page! I’d think children would love it.

    What I will tell you is that everyone – absolutely everyone I’ve served these to (about 10 people so far) have just raved about it and have asked for the recipe. What most everyone says is – wow, these aren’t all that sweet. They really aren’t, and it’s surprising because there is a lot of sweet stuff in them, but maybe the corn flakes help balance the sugar. I don’t know. They are really delicious, though. But in answer to your question, yes, I think the crumb crust is important. Otherwise, you’re going to have a hand full of melting chocolate everywhere you touch the cube. With the crust, you might get away without chocolate on your fingers. Maybe. I think the crumb crust helps balance the sugar too. The Biscoff, although a cookie, must not have as much sugar as some cookies (haven’t checked). So, hope that answers your questions. Let me know what you think! . . . carolyn

  2. hddonna

    said on December 9th, 2015:

    Thanks for the tips. I think I’ll wait until I can get some speculoos cookies for the crust–was just going to use graham crackers, but if I’m going to make it at all, I might as well do it up right! Wish we had a Trader Joe’s closer to home. It takes a bit of planning to get to one, and I’ve already made my Christmas baking run there. But if they don’t have Biscoff, my supermarket does carry more than one brand of windmill cookies, which are a type of speculoos cookie.

    Also, I’d forgotten until reading your post that the recipe called for cornflakes. Glad you mentioned that–I need to get some.

    Do let me know what you think of them . . . carolyn

  3. hddonna

    said on December 24th, 2015:

    I made these a couple days ago, and I’m glad I was forewarned about some of the problems they presented. Unfortunately, that didn’t keep some of the same problems from happening for me. I lined my pan with foil and popped the slab right out of the pan with no heating. Tried the serrated knife, but it didn’t work well for me either. Switched to my old, cheap thin Kiwi knife, which worked fine, and I turned the slab crust up for cutting so the crust wouldn’t crumble. But all the crust fell right off each piece as I picked it up and turned it upright to place it in a container. I did get 7 rows each way, but the result was little towers instead of cubes. I think they are delicious, but messy to eat, as the chocolate melts and the crust crumbles. I’m the only one who’s tasted them so far-whether I make them again depends on how my family likes them. I used dried cherries and pistachios, by the way.

    I have, still, about 10-12 of the cubes left in my refrigerator. And, despite the difficulties I had with them, I absolutely loved these cookies. Next time I’ll try to make the crust more moist (butter?) so it will hold together better. And I think pressing down the chocolate/corn flake mixture into the crust will help keep them together. Mine fell apart also, but I just LOVED them enough that I want to make them again. Not this week, but sometime soon. I’ll have to go research online and see if other people have had trouble. The cubes I cut never looked as pretty as the ones in the newspaper article, so I’m not sure what worked for them. I hope your family enjoys them, Donna! . . . carolyn t

  4. hddonna

    said on December 27th, 2015:

    These went over very well. When my son asked where “those fudgy things” were, I knew I’d be making them again. As for the crust falling off, I have an idea. I noticed that the cubes left out on the cookie tray for a few hours started melding with the crust better. Then it occurred to me that the topping is put onto a frozen crust. I had noticed that the crust was very buttery and moist when I made it. There were actually some very wet spots. But since the crust is frozen before the topping is added, the butter firms up and doesn’t adhere to the topping. Next time, I will freeze it as directed so the topping can be added without messing up the crust, but then I will leave it at room temperature for a while and press down again before chilling the whole thing. I like the taste best when they are at room temperature, so will leave them out longer than fifteen minutes when serving them. Finally, I intend to make them in a 9-inch square pan instead of 8-inch so that a one-inch square will not be taller than it is wide. I had about 6 cookies left from the package when I made the crust, so I think I’ll use the whole package. I don’t think more butter would be necessary, but if they don’t look thoroughly moistened, a bit more could be added before spreading the crumbs. Since I found that my thin, smooth Kiwi brand knife worked best for slicing, I might try heating the knife before cutting so as to get smoother cuts. (The Kiwi looks like a small cleaver but is as thin as a paring knife.)

    Great ideas Donna. Thanks for thinking it through. . . Carolyn t

  5. hddonna

    said on December 29th, 2015:

    Further note on cutting: I just cut one of the cubes in half when it was at room temperature, and the cut was very smooth and straight. Bringing the bars to room temperature before cutting would apparently result in much neater squares!

    Ah, that’s great news, Donna. Thank you! . . . carolyn t

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